Slow Death of the Ministry of Minority Affairs


Despite the fact that development indicators show that minority communities, particularly Muslims, lag behind in terms of education and overall development, the minority ministry’s budget has been reduced year after year

Abdul Bari Masoud | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — The Ministry for Minority Affairs, established 17 years ago, appears to be on its deathbed. The absence of a full-fledged minister at the helm for over a year coupled with a substantial reduction in its budget, raises concern on its commitment to address the welfare of minorities. Of the 14 welfare schemes, four have been recently scrapped. On top of it all, only a portion of the funds allocated for minority welfare has been utilized.

Despite the fact that development indicators show that minority communities, particularly Muslims, lag behind in terms of education and overall development, the minority ministry’s budget has been reduced year after year. The budgetary allocation of the ministry for the 2023-24 fiscal has been slashed by 38 per cent from the previous year. The budget estimate has come down from Rs.5,020.50 crore in 2022-23 to Rs.3,097 crore.

The state of affairs raises serious concerns among the minority communities about the Narendra Modi government’s approach towards their welfare which contradicts the emblematic slogan of “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas”. The minorities, particularly the Muslim community, believe that the current dispensation is deliberately neglecting their concerns in order to appease the “Hindutva constituency.”

Currently, the additional charge of the minority affairs ministry has been given to the Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani. Of late, reports in the media also indicated that the Modi government was mulling winding up the ministry, but it was refuted.  Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who was the minister before Ms. Irani, also had much to blame for the poor performance of the ministry. Instead of focusing on the flagship schemes, he prioritised holding ‘Hunar Haat’ sessions nationwide, which were not of significant importance.

Notably, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment also underlined that the MMA was unable to use all of its budgetary allotment for the 2020–21 fiscal year. According to the report, funds were reduced by more than Rs 1,000 crore at the revised estimate stage “due to the slow pace of expenditure in the scholarship component.”

The report stated that the ministry could spend only 38.5% of funds up to December 31, 2020, and there was a reduction of around Rs 1,024 crore over the budgetary allocation from the budget estimate to the revised estimate stage during 2020–21. This has become a regular feature since the BJP assumed power at the Centre.

Former Union Minister for Minority Affairs K. Rehman Khan alleged the current government has so far shown little interest in taking action to support minorities. “We have seen a rise in the budget for each sector every year, but not of the MMA. In this case, the fund for the ministry was slashed, and the government even chose not to use those amounts.” Rehman Khan told Clarion India, which keeps a close tab on the functioning of the ministry, that during his tenure many new schemes were launched.

Discontinuation of schemes

The discontinuation of programmes such as the Padho Pardesh Interest Subsidy Scheme and the termination of pre-matric scholarships, available to students in Classes 1 through 8, showed the government’s approach towards minorities.

Furthermore, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship for higher education and the Nai Udaan Scheme, designed to aid minority candidates in getting ready for the preliminary exams conducted by the Union and State Public Service Commissions, have also been scrapped.

Although the Action Agenda and the Strategy Document of the government think tank Niti Aayog highlighted that Muslims and other religious minorities lag behind on development indicators.

These fellowships and scholarships are given to motivate students to finish their education as well as to encourage their parents to enroll their kids in schools and other educational institutions. The results of the 75th round of the National Sample Survey on Education, conducted in 2017–18, show that Muslims have a greater dropout rate than people who belong to other religious minorities.

Speaking with Clarion India, Jawed Alam Khan said that religious minorities, mainly Muslims, have lower education levels due to low budgetary allocations and underutilization of resources. Through policy initiatives like the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram, the Union government’s overall spending on minorities has decreased as a share of the total spending on the Union Budget from 2012–2013.

Cut in budgetary allocation 

Jawed Alam Khan, who works with the Delhi-based Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, also underlined that the minority ministry has been reduced constantly.

There was also a massive cut in the budget meant for minorities, which has been slashed by almost 40 percent. The allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs is now less than 0.1 percent of Rs 45 lakh crore, the total annual budget for 2023–24.

On the massive cut in the minority budget, Nirmala Sitaraman stated that it was a demand from the minority ministry. When this correspondent asked Irani, she said “Yes, we asked for the cut in the budget as it is sufficient to run all the schemes.” She also cited corruption in pre-matric schemes.

Rehman Khan claimed that the Planning Commission during the UPA government allocated a budget of Rs 27,000 for the minority ministry over a five-year period, along with an additional Rs 3,000 grant, as opposed to the Rs 40,000 requested by the ministry, or roughly Rs 6,000 annually.

He noted that every sector’s budget has climbed since the BJP seized control of the government, but the Minority Ministry’s budget has decreased despite the fact that it should have been at least Rs 10,000 per year as every budget takes a 10 percent inflation rate into account.

Referring to the Waqf Development Corporation, the Central Waqf Council, and the 123 Waqf properties, the former minister said the government’s intention towards minorities is not good. He said in no uncertain terms that he was totally dissatisfied with the functioning of the ministry.

Echoing his views, Dr. John Dayal, activist and author, said the situation for minorities is not good, and organisations established to promote the welfare of minorities are not now in operation. He said that since the BJP came to power, “they had the welfare of the minorities on their mind.”

“We seem to be observers of the gradual demise of the Minority Ministry. At the moment, it is not clear who is in charge of the ministry—the second minister or minister of state, who has no power, while the bureaucracy too is totally disinterested in minority welfare,” Dr. Dayal observed while speaking to Clarion India.

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